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The Women’s Movement

In the early sixties of the XX century, the arousal of women’s social consciousness led to the emergence of the second wave of feminism. This time, a new women’s movement protested against the patriarchal society. While sticklers of gender equality of late XIX – early XX centuries considered achieving voting rights for women to be their central goal, the new generation of feminists emphasized rather on public equality than legal, demanding equal opportunities to exercise their rights. They strove for the eradication of women discrimination in all spheres of human activity but primarily, in the field of marriage, motherhood, and workplace, using effective methods of influence on both the power system and public consciousness to achieve their purposes.

Among the foremost goals of second-wave women’s movement was the recognition of the women’s right to family planning. The feminists argued the concept that the fundamental purpose of a woman was motherhood, understood as reclusion and abandonment of career, taking care only of a house. Betty Friedan in The Feminine Mystique criticized the idea that women could fulfill themselves only in parenting and household. Fraser mentioned that they ended up, by the definition of Friedan, in the comfortable concentration camp of family life, revealing that it is not able to release oneself from the feeling of insignificance. She was the first to claim that women should not refuse from or hide their ambitions and dreams which were not associated with the family or household.

 
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In connection with the above, feminists demanded to give women the right to control the reproductive function which meant to dispose freely of their bodies and lives. They determined patriarchy through the men’s control over women’s reproductive health. Since it was the birth and upbringing of children that made women dependent on men in financial terms, it became evident that the biological differences formed the relationship of power and subordination. Therefore, the central place in women’s movement activity belonged to the campaign for gaining the right to legal and safe abortions for American women. The legalization of abortion, advocated by feminists under the slogan “right to choose”, would provide, first of all, independence and freedom in sexual relationships.

Another significant area of second-wave feminism activity was the labor market. Nadasen stated that the existing system opposed to women becoming the workforce, in the mid-sixties. Therefore, women’s struggle was targeted at gaining the right to work, equality of employment opportunities and career promotion, and equal pay for equal work. Consequently, women could become independent from men having the finances that can be consumed on further destruction and ultimate elimination of patriarchy.

Liberal feminists considered the abolition of gender discrimination in all spheres of economic and public activity on the legislative level to be the principal strategy to achieve their goals. Therefore, started with the political demonstrations and participation in the Left movement, the second wave of feminism gradually reached an autonomous phase, creating independent women’s structures. Focusing on reforming of existing power system, they operated with methods, traditional for the US political culture, such as filing lawsuits and lobbying of laws. In particular, Fraser emphasized on the significant role of the National Organization for Women, established in 1966 and headed by Betty Friedan, in passing the Equal Rights Amendment, in 1970, which forbade discrimination “on account of sex.” In addition, in 1973, the Supreme Court supported Jane Roe’s lawsuit in the case Roe v. Wade to declare unconstitutional Texas law restricting the right to safe abortion. The exercise of this right, by the definition of the Court, was equal to the scope of personal liberty of the citizen guaranteed by the Constitution.

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Furthermore, radical feminists of the second wave suggested that the attempt to overthrow a powerful system of patriarchy by civil demands to change laws would not succeed. Therefore, they intended to change the entire system of values and destroy age-old stereotypes. In this regard, it was necessary to arouse the public consciousness, influence women and men and provoke debates and clash of opinions. Thus, radical feminists strengthened their activity with tactics of spontaneous, but purposeful and well-targeted actions. For example, in 1968, in Atlantic City during the Miss America Pageant outside the building, where the popular show was held, they were publicly throwing lady’s magazines and women’s toiletries in the trash can. Such actions of the symbolic destruction of natural purpose shackles poured into a more powerful stream of the search for new forms of group activity at the community level.

Moreover, demands of the women’s movement as one of the most popular directions of the cultural struggle became the dominant theme of the media. In 1971, the well-known journalist Gloria Steinem began publishing the magazine called Ms. Instead of sexist language norms “Miss” or “Mrs”, pointing to marital status, a new neutral title “Ms” was aimed to liberate women’s consciousness. The enormous popularity of the feminist publication proved the significance and success of the beginning revolution. Besides, Gloria Steinem became one of the leaders of a new movement, being the first to raise publicly shocking themes, such as female sexuality, control over women’s bodies and reproductive rights, and sexual violence against women. The introduction of these issues into the public discourse seemed to undermine fundamental moral principles and destroy two-hundred-year civilization.

Hence, the inherent feature of second-wave feminism was the criticism of gender inequality in public and private life. Feminists saw the main reason for sex discrimination in the patriarchal system of society with the dominance of men in all spheres and subordinate role of women. They considered the women’s right to control the reproduction, legal abortions, and full access to a labor market as significant preconditions towards absolute gender equality. To meet their targets, feminists exerted pressure, first of all, on the power and public consciousness. However, the second-wave feminism did not achieve its goals in full since some issues that women raised in the sixties survived till today. Nonetheless, this movement evoked a real social revolution: women massively entered the labor market which led to a sharp increase in the wealth of society, and an entirely new concept of gender policy.

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